‘You can’t negotiate with NTTA’: NTX business uses GPS to steer drivers away from tolls



Demara Morrow serves as the chief financial officer for a small millwork company in Dallas. The company manufactures and installs cabinets for customers all over the metro region. It depends on reliable roads with predictable travel times to turn a profit.

For projects along the Dallas North Tollway, where tolls tend to be more predictable, Morrow said the costs of tolls are built into projects “because we knew we’d have to be on the tollway to do that.”

That’s different with tollways that have dynamic pricing, a price system that requires motorists to pay more to drive in a toll lane when the free lanes are most congested. The idea is that the pricing structure will improve traffic flow during peak hours. “You never know what you’re going to pay.”

To estimate toll charges, the company’s delivery trucks are equipped with GPS trackers, which route them from the millwork company’s southeast Dallas office. Morrow sends a client address directly to the tracker so the driver can find the most efficient route. If they use their phone, it’s still problematic, she said. “Whether it’s Android or Apple, even if you go in and try to say no tollways, but you don’t unclick freeways, it can push them on the tollway.”

That can be expensive.

For toll roads such as the expressway to Fort Worth, it’s not unusual to pay over $25 for each ride, five times a day, totaling over $100, between the company’s offices in south Dallas and a customer’s job site, she said.

Sometimes, drivers will accidentally get on the tollway or the GPS device will put them on one to avoid traffic hazards and bottlenecks, she said. Many of the trucks also have to drive into undeveloped communities where streets and other rights of way aren’t completely yet paved. Sometimes, drivers also stop to purchase materials on the way to a job site and are pressed for time to arrive as scheduled.

Once on a toll road, it can be difficult to get off. At other times, a new employee will not yet have purchased a toll tag and costs can soar, she said.

“There’s very limited access for them to realize where they are, what they’re doing and get off it.”

In Morrow’s role, she’s tasked with contacting the North Texas Tollway Authority to pay the company’s toll bill. But the agency won’t agree to payment plans. “It’s all or nothing,” she said. “The fee structure is unmanageable. It’s unmitigable. You can’t do anything about it and they’re excessive for what it is. It’s just a profit center.”

Fees and penalties also seem arbitrary, she said. Those bills can reach $1,000 or more monthly. “Trying to negotiate with NTTA to go, ‘Hey, what can I do? How can I fix this?’ You can’t negotiate with the NTTA. You can’t negotiate with their collection company. You can’t make payment arrangements.”

And, her company has no choice but to pay up or face a registration block or confiscation of the vehicle.

At one point, her attention was drawn to a toll that cost nearly $120 to get from Cockrell Hill in Dallas to downtown Fort Worth in summer 2022.

In another situation: The company had to pay toll fees for a vehicle that had been stolen.

“It didn’t matter that we sent the police report and everything else, we still had to pay the $500 in tolls.”